A Note from Fatty: Thanks to everyone who commented yesterday and thanks especially to the dozens of people who sent email volunteering to help out with plane vouchers. Susan took much less pain medication on Tuesday, and the nausea stopped. Susan spent most of the day sleeping. Since the pain is much worse when she moves, we agreed that she should stay in bed yesterday. We’ll take each day as it comes as to what to do next.
Yesterday (Tuesday), for the first time since I was in college, I went to court. Back in college I went because I heard you could get the fine for a speeding ticket reduced just by showing up, and back then I had more time than money.
The Part About Throwing Rocks Off Cliffs
Before I got a call from the Park Service on May 18, I had no idea that throwing a rock off a cliff was an illegal act.
Well, it is. And there are good reasons, too.
- You could hit a person
- You could hit an animal
- You could hit something of historical significance, like a rock carving
Now, when Dug and I had thrown that rock off Vertigo void, I had perfect confidence — it’s an overhang, not a cliff, with a clear view of the area where the rock will land — that we would not hit a person or any animal larger than a chipmunk (by the way, a chipmunk has made its home in my garage, and I would appreciate tips on getting it to relocate).
But could there have been rock carvings I hit and ruined without knowing? Yes. And that makes me feel bad. I’m never tossing another rock off Vertigo Void or elsewhere. Because it’s not legal, and because it’s possible to do real damage to something valuable you don’t even know exists.
The Part Before the Hearing
After talking with the ranger the first time, I started thinking about what I had done. I really didn’t like the idea of damaging anyone or anything.
So I called the ranger back.
I told him that I have a blog (it turns out he already knew, even though it didn’t come up in our first conversation, since the rock tossing didn’t appear or ever get mentioned in this blog, and in fact I hadn’t known it was even filmed ’til after the ranger called). And I told him that if his aim was to get the word out that this was a bad idea and that it’s illegal, that I could help. I told him that I’d talk about it in my blog. I told him that this could turn out to be a good thing, that I could be his partner in stopping what he clearly sees as a serious problem.
Perhaps, in return, I said, he could recommend that instead of a court date — which he had strongly hinted was otherwise looming — he could send over whatever stiff fine he felt was warranted, and let me use my time to further his cause instead of going to court.
The ranger told me he appreciated the thought and I’d see something in the mail one way or another within the next couple weeks.
Of course, we got summoned to court. So yesterday, dressed in our Sunday best, Brandon, Dug and I carpooled over to the court in Salt Lake (the ranger had considerately arranged it to be close to where I live because of Susan’s sickness, and I really appreciate it).
As we drove over, we all wondered aloud the same thing: “What special thing do they want from us that can only be obtained in a court?” All three of us had already admitted our part. All three of us said we’d pay a fine if sent one.
I speculated that they were going to press for some very specific things for me to talk about in this blog. That I would make it a primary focus. That there would be interviews. That there would be so many words, so many installments, so many case studies.
We arrived an hour early, and continued to speculate. We had heard that the prosecuting attorney might want to talk with us prior to the hearing, so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to cooperate and hopefully not have to pay the full $500 fine (each!) we had heard they’d be pressing for. And come to consensus on exactly how much and what topics I’d cover in this blog.
I refrained from saying, “you mean allegedly.” My brain-mouth filter was on at 110%.
He then introduced himself as our court-appointed attorney.
Wait. We get an attorney? Awesome. I think.
Anyways, our attorney said he got an email about this case yesterday and ran around the whole office, showing it to everyone. They all thought it was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen. He really really really wanted us to go with “not guilty,” so he could take it to trial. But yeah, we’d have to come back for another day in the courtroom. Saying “No Contest” meant we could pay the fine and be done with it.
At that point, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney started their pre-hearing negotiating. “We’re going for $200 each, because this was an outrageous offense by these three mature adults,” said the prosecutor.
The defense guy started laughing his head off. “I’m asking for no fine at all. Everyone throws rocks off cliffs. Until I saw this email, I didn’t know it’s illegal.”
And then, the prosecutor said that the ranger had asked for “something about someone writing something in a blog or whatever those Internet things are called, but I’m not going to bother asking for that.”
The prosecutor then made some sort of dig at the defense attorney that I’m still trying to parse: “Is it true that before work every day, defense lawyers go into a dark closet and laugh for an hour?”
It was both cliche and baffling. How is that possible?
I looked over at Dug to see how he was reacting, and noticed he was biting his tongue so hard that blood was coming out of both corners of his mouth.
Then the hearing itself started. The prosecutor asked for $200 from each of us, the defender told a story about how last weekend he and his whole scout troop had been chucking rocks off cliffs.
The judge said he was going to give us the “collateral” fine, which was $50, plus the $10 processing fee. $60 each.
Then the court clerk guy (quite possible that’s not his official title) chimed in, saying there’d be an additional $25 fee having to do with something about this originating from the Canyonlands.
“What?!” said the judge. I may be reading unintended emotion into this, but it seemed to me that he found the idea of $85 per person ridiculous. “They should each pay a total fine of $60,” concluded the judge.
And it was over. The prosecutor vanished quickly, having successfully garnered 1/8 of what he was asking for and 1/10 what I had been prepared to pay if they had just sent a ticket.
Of course, I still started this post by telling the truth: I’m never throwing rocks off cliffs again. But that’s because I really think the ranger was a good guy doing the right things for the right reasons.
But they could have accomplished — and got — a lot more if they had thought about having a penitent partner, instead of what amounted to 15 minutes in court and a tiny fine ($180, total), which the ranger earned with what looks like around 100 hours or so of research, interviews and investigative work.
Miscellaneous Interesting Facts
As our parting court gifts, we were each given a CD with photos of Vertigo Void and a printout of all the ranger’s notes. Which means that all of the following information is now part of an official court document:
- “RAWROD stands for Ride Around the White Rim in One Day.”
- Vertigo Void is named such because “When a person lays down on the overhanging rock surface with his or her head beyond the edge, the person can look straigth down approximately 400 feet to the floor of the box canyon and underneath the overhang into the eroded void. This action often produces a sensation of vertigo.”
- “‘Fatty’ is the nickname of Elden Clyde NELSON of Alpine, UT.”
- “ANDERSON is seen in the video wearing a green bicycling jersey with a white star on the back and plaid shorts.” (Note: am I the only one who thinks that this, too, should have been a misdemeanor? At least?)
- “NELSON was unwilling to disclose the name of the other person who helped him throw the rock over the cliff because it did not feel right to him to do so.”
- “NELSON said he and ANDERSON are best friends.”
- Anderson says “He knows NELSON pretty well.”
- “ANDERSON is a conservationist.”
- “The possibility of archeological site damage makes [ANDERSON] feel a little bit bad.”
- “SMITH inquired as to whether there is any option for SMITH to receive a $50 citation and a warning and denounce the activity on his blog instead of going to court.” (Note: if the ranger had gone along with this, Brandon would have wound up paying $25 more than we did after going to court, once you factor in the $35 worth of fees he would have gotten with that citation.)
PS: Last night Lance Armstrong posted a really thoughtful tweet, which was followed by dozens of retweets. Thanks very much to all of you.